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Lord Inglewood: I shall respond, first, to the point made by the noble Baroness. In that respect, the matter will be dealt with in regulations. As I said, we shall approach the problems along the lines I described. The kind of comment made by my noble friend Lord Swinfen shows how complicated it can be accurately to deal with such matters so that the result can meet the religious requirements of the person concerned. However, there are many people with all kinds of

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different religious criteria involved. It is our intention that those requirements shall be met whenever it is possible to do so.

Earl Russell: Is the Minister aware that there can be very real difficulty, even for those of us in this Chamber who follow such matters with some care, in knowing exactly what is in the regulations or guidance? How does the Minister propose that such restrictions on availability should be made clear to an aggressive employer with a strong concern about his profit margins?

Lord Inglewood: The regulations are legislation and are publicly-available documents. Moreover, they have the sanction of the law behind them.

Lord Rix: Perhaps I may point out to the Minister that the two amendments to which he is referring—Amendments Nos. 43 and 52—give broad-brush definitions which everyone can understand. I should have thought that the wording defining the exact meaning of religious belief, conscience and so on would be clearly stated in the regulations. However, the broad-brush approach is in the amendments and, if they were accepted, it would therefore be clear in primary legislation.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Inglewood: It seems to us that the nature of our debate indicates that the right way is to put such matters in regulation. The more we look into the matter, the more detailed it seems we must be in order satisfactorily to resolve the particular problems we are trying to address.

The key to the issue is that there will be flexibility to agree the pattern of availability across the week which will enable those who have difficulties working on any particular day—whether it be a Sunday or otherwise—to take account of those problems while still meeting the normal terms of availability. In view of those comments, I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.

I turn now to Amendment No. 44A. Perhaps I may reassure the noble Baroness that we recognise the special role that part-time firefighters play and the service that they provide to the community; and, indeed, that applies equally to the other groups to which she referred. Part-time firefighters have historically enjoyed special treatment in unemployment benefits and we will continue that under JSA. We believe that the benefit regime should recognise that those firefighters provide the service in a way which is often combined with normal working patterns. Current provisions carried forward into JSA will continue to encourage and make it possible for unemployed people to provide such services.

The current special treatment for part-time firefighters is provided for in regulations. We will adopt the same approach in JSA as currently provided for in unemployment benefit. We intend to provide in regulations, under Clause 6(2), that people engaged in the performance of the duty of a part-time fireman maintained in pursuance of the Fire Services Acts 1947

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to 1959 shall be treated as available for employment on the days they are acting as firemen. This is a detailed issue and we believe it is more suitable for secondary rather than primary legislation. I hope that with the Government's assurance the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment. I wish now to move on to Amendment No. 52 which seeks to ensure that the labour market conditions—

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, is doing his best to answer some quite precise questions. On the original, so to speak, shopping list associated with Amendment No. 43, although he talked to some of the issues, he did not respond to the point about foster parents. Will he also answer that point please?

Lord Inglewood: As regards foster parents, the general position is the same as for other parents. JSA regulations will both enable people to restrict their availability in line with caring and contain an easement to enable the carer to have a 24-hour easement from the condition to be immediately available.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I do not think that was the point that was being made, and certainly the answer does not address it. As I understand it, at the moment foster parents are eligible for unemployment benefit which is not impeded by the fact that they may not be available for work because they have to be available to take a child on instant notice. We are not talking about long-term foster parents; we are talking about those who receive children on a temporary placement basis. They have a particular and protected position which we wish to ensure continues if they are to fulfil that job; otherwise they will lose their ability to be foster parents because the actively available for seeking work requirements will cut across that standby arrangement rather like the case of retained fire-fighters. Perhaps this is not the right time for the Minister to provide a detailed answer, but I hope that he will take note of that point. It is not the long-term foster parents I am so concerned about but rather the temporary foster parent who is in and out of fostering.

Lord Inglewood: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her remarks. The general position is as I said, that foster parents are treated as other parents. However, having heard those useful remarks, it may be helpful if I respond to this matter later.

Amendment No. 52 seeks to ensure that the labour market conditions of JSA will be able to take account of the many different needs of people looking for work. I emphasise once more to my noble friend Lord Swinfen that this has always been our objective. Remarks have been made about possible discrimination in the operation of the Employment Service. I emphasise that there is a clear obligation and commitment on the service not to exercise any discrimination at all in the manner in which it carries out its functions.

Reference was also made to a target. It is not a target which is intended to try to ensure that a certain number of people are disqualified; it is a target which is intended to provide for the Employment Service what is anticipated to be the likely amount of referrals which

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should in turn be properly documented so that no one's time is wasted and the matter is dealt with properly. The Employment Service has a job to do which includes both paying out and denying payment. It is the job of the Employment Service to do that properly within the terms of reference which it is set. If the Committee is concerned that staff delivering JSA act in a discriminatory way, I hope this assurance will satisfy it.

Lord McCarthy: Given the noble Lord's preference, which he has shown throughout the day, for secondary as against primary legislation, does he not accept there is a special argument for the provision that we are discussing from the point of view of being declaratory of government policy? As far as I understand the noble Lord, he is not saying that there will be regulations about the matters in Amendment No. 52. But even if there are, is there not a special case for putting a commitment of this kind on the face of the Bill? Is it not more likely that it will be taken seriously inside the department if that is done?

Lord Inglewood: No, I do not think that that approach leads to that conclusion at all. The department's position in this regard is quite clear. The Government's policy in this regard is quite clear. I should have thought that ought to be sufficient. In general our policy is to include and not to exclude, to take account of all the facts in determining eligibility for benefit, not to ignore them. I fear that the provision envisaged in this amendment would be impossible to relate to real labour market needs and could result in some of the claimants qualifying for JSA when their intentions and actions meant that they were not genuine jobseekers. For that reason I must urge the Committee to reject this amendment.

Lord Swinfen: Before my noble friend sits down, can he tell the Committee whether the salary of the Employment Service staff is affected in any way by the number of cases that they refer to adjudication?

Lord Inglewood: No, it is not. Public sector pay is related to a person's contribution to the performance of the organisation. Employment Service annual performance objectives are translated into local office standards. These are reflected in the individual's work-related objectives. In the case of an employment officer, these will include, for example, placings into work and accuracy and speed of benefit payments. There is not, and will not be, any correlation between the conditions of benefit for a jobseeker and an employment officer's pay. I hope that puts the matter beyond peradventure.

Earl Russell: The Minister has once again invoked the advantages of flexibility. Can I ask him how Parliament can have any input into that flexibility, and whether I am right in believing that it is still the basic principle that Parliament makes the law?

Lord Inglewood: The noble Earl is absolutely right. The law of the land is made by Parliament and there are procedures for dealing with primary legislation and, equally, for dealing with secondary legislation. As the

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noble Earl knows, in the case of this Bill the affirmative procedure will be used at the initial stages of the transition from the existing arrangements.


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